Phil's Travels - Eastbourne, England (08.20)
Phil's Travels - Eastbourne, England (08,.20)
It was Friday afternoon and I was at the wheel of my white Sheikha mobile, with my Sheikhas (my wonderful wife in front working on her fast-fingered iPhone and my delightful daughter relaxing in the rear with her movie-loaded iPad), seeking a way over the Thames. Every bridge was chocka with northern dwellers heading south. I gave up trying to find that elusive quick route and drove out to Heathrow, turned left, followed the 'Road to Hell' (aka the M25) round to the M23, then right, down to the coast (a 3+ hour drive in rush hour ahead of one of the sunniest weekends of the year - not good time planning).
Our hotel in Eastbourne was located on the frontline, overlooking the sea and beach, and was another of our asset management babies. I had last visited the hotel at the very beginning of our long term relationship, back in 2010. In the intervening 10 years, under the careful ministrations and tender loving care of Nick, this ugly duckling was well on its way to swan-like glory. The service, rooms, F&B, lobby and facilities were massively improved. The façade though will take a while longer yet to become truly swan-esque.
We had dinner in the hotel, on the first floor terrace outside the main restaurant. Aside from the wine being warm, it was a delightful meal - good food (high quality fish and chips), great service (well done Keith and Lucy) and all with stunning views over the beach, sea and The Wish Tower (no other hotel in Eastbourne had such views). Breakfast was on the same terrace and staff coped admirably with the multiple round trips in aid of my wonderful wife's perfect coffee, comprising multiple mugs, jugs of hot water and of cold milk, all of which, in the amazing alchemist's hands of my wonderful wife, were turned into what must be any self-respecting barista's worst nightmare - a watery concoction of tasteless pale brown liquid. Still, our little Sheikha enjoyed the show.
Our extremely comfortable and clean rooms were also frontline, direct sea views, and from the fifth floor - what a view.
Saturday morning, my Sheikhas went to the beach to sun-worship and paddle, whilst I attended to a client's needs by way of a conference call with Africa and France. I joined the ladies after noon and an hour later our super son arrived (came by train, having elected to engage in a mega burger fest in London the evening before rather than drive down with us). In the backstreets we found a quiet and unprepossessing Italian for a quick lunch, that turned out to be one of the best Italian meals in years (including a chicken salad in the form, proportions and beauty of The Wish Tower). We were tempted to return for dinner, but were told it was fully booked and so resorted to a branded affair on Wish Tower hill for Saturday night tea - Bistrot Pierre.
Whilst the kids retreated to our hotel to repose post delicious Italian, my wonderful wife and I went for an explore. Eastbourne is a surprisingly lovely place. Very clean, well maintained, quiet and polite. Even the beaches are well behaved and people respectful. A joy of a beach-break destination. In the local bookshop I even found two Berlitz guides I don't have already (I seek out one for each destination I have visited, and managed to secure the new 'St Petersburg' and 'Cannes, Nice & Monte Carlo' editions). We spent another time soaking more rays before heading to the hotel for showers and out for dinner.
Bistrot Pierre was not worth the effort, but it was worth seeing The Wish Tower up close and to read about its history. It was the 73rd of 74 Martello Towers (named after a Genoese defence system at Martela Point in Corsica) built in the early 1800s along the south coast to defend against Napoleon's expansionist tendencies. Eastbourne developed around this single-massive-canon bearing tower and is one of few remaining Martello Towers in England. Today, it is a tourist attraction and hosts the odd event. Long may it remain and let us hope the redevelopments plans proposed in the 1950s are never to be revived and the unscrupulous developers' dozers forever held at bay.
After Sunday morning breakfast, we checked out and drove along the scenic coastline to Brighton; past the Seven Sisters (a row of chalk cliffs, a la white cliffs of Dover), through Newhaven (a channel ferry port) and across the South Downs (a National Park that stretches from Eastbourne to Winchester 116km in the west).
Whereas Eastbourne was a surprise pleasure, Brighton was a positive displeasure. The drives into town from the east and out the other side through Hove are visual treats, with splendiferous Victorian terraces, squares and villas on parade. But the centre - what a visual pain on the retina. Either side of the magnificent Grand Hotel (the only quality bit of architecture and preservation on the King's Road), the buildings are pretty grubby and tired looking. The whole place felt way more sleazy, much busier, disrespectful, dirtier, colourful, retail rich and F&B kaleidoscopic than Eastbourne - which must suit a lot of people, as there were a lot of people (of all shapes, sizes, colours, attires and decorations).
We explored The Lanes (my first time in 20 years). They seemed smaller than my memory had in mind. They were busy, the buildings and streetscape were chaotic (some gorgeous old structures interspersed with grotty, graffiti-clad new stuff), and the whole area was surely a missed opportunity. If such an icon were in Italy or France, the Municipio or Mairie would invest in creating a harmonious streetscape that gives a true sense of place and quality, resulting in better rents and higher prices from better and higher quality tourists. Even the once top dog Hotel du Vin was looking a bit down at heal (only 14th out of 45 hotels on Tripadvisor, when it used to be the dog's bananas in its heyday).
Lunch was delicious fried chicken in the shade. We bought some art from a cute gallery in The Lanes (did you know the area was part of the original settlement of Brighthelmstone and built up in the 18th century soon after Dr Richard Russell of nearby Lewes proclaimed the benefits of sea water). The drive home was a breeze (data-retarded sat-nav firmly silenced, reference previous blog for visits to Wimbledon-ish) and with a tear in my eye on parting, I returned the Sheikha mobile the following morning to its rightful owner and caught the bus home. So ended the story of the Sheikhas and a blogger go to the seaside.